TOP researcher featured guest on Overpopulation Podcast: “Dropping birth rates are good news”

By The Overpopulation Project

In the latest Overpopulation Podcast produced by World Population Balance, worries about an aging population go under the microscope with our very own Phil Cafaro in an episode focused on TOP’s recent publication, “Aging Human Populations: Good for Us, Good for the Earth.”

In the episode “Dropping Birth Rates are Good News,” Dave Garder, the Executive Director of World Population Balance, and Phil Cafaro discuss the perceived problems associated with aging populations, how these problems are often exaggerated, and how they can be more accurately depicted and properly addressed.

They begin with a short introduction to The Overpopulation Project’s aims, as well as the authors’ motivation for writing the opinion article. “We dove into the literature…to see what the economists, sociologists and ecologists were saying about these demographic changes [aging]…and found [economists saying] the problems are not as bad as we thought, or they are not problems at all.”

Perceived problems with aging societies include worker shortages, increased health care expenditures, and public pension deficits. Questionable metrics, like the dependency ratio, often amplify these issues, and many economists and media outlets portray population growth to be the only solution. Not only is this solution ineffective, in a world of ecological limits, it is simply not feasible.

Other solutions, such as policies that make it easier for people to both collect their pensions and continue working, or national budgeting that does not ignore future savings from shrinking youth cohorts, could aid in the transition to aging, smaller populations.

TOP’s recent publication is the first broad review on the positive aspects of aging societies, but several earlier studies – generally neglected by the media – showed that increased birth- or immigration rates cannot solve the phenomenon of aging populations. In 2000, a UN report calculated that for Japan to maintain its 1995 ratio of working age to old people up to 2050, the country would need to add 500 million extra people – to a country the size of Sweden with 125 million people already.

There are many economic, ecological and social benefits associated with smaller populations. For example, rewilding of abandoned agricultural landscapes offers prospects for ecotourism and a fairer sharing of habitat and resources with other species. They have the potential to increase national self-sufficiency, e.g. in food production. Smaller populations also provide an opportunity to shift the economic paradigm to focus on inclusive growth and greater well-being, rather than pursuing endless growth in the sheer amount of economic activity or overall wealth.

To listen to the full discussion and learn more about how aging societies are a net positive, and the policy planning necessary to realize that net positive, listen to the whole podcast here:

Be sure to share our episode, “Dropping Birth Rates are Good News,” with your friends!


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2 thoughts on “TOP researcher featured guest on Overpopulation Podcast: “Dropping birth rates are good news”

  1. I finally got the chance to read the publication (Aging Human Populations) and it was a very nice read. I find it very important to emphasize the quality of life in the whole overpopulation problem so it’s nice to see it addressed here.

    I have following two remarks though.
    – Concerning the shortfalls of pension funding: I find it remarkable that the most obvious solution to this ‘challenge’ is never or rarely talked about. The most logic and sustainable solution would be to reorganize the pension-funding system so that each generation pays its own pensions. In the current system the younger generations pay the pension of the the older ones meaning that a ‘rectangular’ population pyramid is problematic. But if each generation pays its own pension you can perfectly work with an upside-down population pyramid. The transition towards such a system does not need to be problematic too: with a gradual transition you would experience minimal problems. For example, 25% of the people born between 2020-2025 could start under the new system and for the period between 2025-2030 you can increase the percentage to 30%. During such a transition you would still have money for paying the current system while already saving for the new system.
    – As I mentioned above I find the quality of life a very important factor in the overpopulation problem. Therefore I would improve the definition of the word overpopulation. The publication has following definition of overpopulation: “Overpopulation exists when a human population is too large to preserve ecosystem services or too large to share the landscape fairly with other species.” This definition is in line with the most common definitions as they only talk about the ecological parameter. I would propose the following definition by adding the ‘quality of life’ parameter into the equation: “Overpopulation exists when a human population is too large to preserve ecosystem services, too large to share the landscape fairly with other species or too large to maintain a high quality of life for each of the population’s individuals.” You can perfectly maintain ecosystem services and maintain enough wilderness for other species with 15 billion people but the quality of life for each of those 15 billion individuals would be catastrophic!

  2. I strongly support studies about life quality in aging societies with slowly decreasing population and low fertility except the global and national consequencies. Politicians push usually for growth even when the advantages are doubtful on the individual level even in a world with more resources than ours and without the moral justification.

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